• Going for the Gusto: Getting Travel-Legal in Indonesia, BLOG DECEMBER 2015

    Posted in Blog by Eric Shaw
    Going for the Gusto::  GETTING TRAVEL-LEGAL IN INDONESIA
    The perfect holiday gift

    The perfect holiday gift

    It doesn’t feel tons like Christmas here in the South Seas.

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    This is the story of how I’ve flung myself at 5 government agencies belonging to 3 different countries on one December Friday to get a teeny holiday gift: my government-snatched U.S. passport.  

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    As the holidays begin, the evil Santa of Indonesian customs has it in his frigid grip.

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    The story starts as I wander with empty hands from the co-working center here in Ubud, Bali named “Hubud.

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    Venezuela, as it were

    Venezuela, as it were

    There, I was lucky to stumble into the backroom where Daniela, a gorgeous Venezuelan with a good heart and a grand sense of play was still lingering, albeit with a dowdy blond guy hovering over her–for what nefarious purpose, I can’t imagine.

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    In any case, he was an obstruction to my quickly-concocted Daniela dinner plans and I had no recourse but to stop 20 paces from the unsuspecting couple and pretend to scroll my phone.

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    Scrolling along

    Scrolling along

    Soon enough, Bachelor #1 disengaged and—blunt like me—I said as I approached, “Daniela!!? Do you want to go with dinner with me?”

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    She was otherwise committed, but asked, “What’s up?” and I defaulted to the most deliriously immediate drama in my life: the struggle to get a U.S. passport back in my paws and get legal with the Independent Republic of Indonesia.

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    In her fine, fresh way, she said, “The last three times we’ve met you’ve talked about that. It must really be eating you.”

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    It’s not. It’s just the story with the biggest wow factor in my life now, and—storyteller that I am—I want to entertain everyone within earshot.

    Daniela’s bored with this story. Let me swivel my typing desk over to you, my dear reader.

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    Cue Taylor Swift intro tune . . .

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    The USA

    The USA

    Wisely or unwisely, I four weeks ago mailed away my USA Passport to the USA. In that sylvan land, I’d hoped to get a Chinese business visa stamped on my travel documents, and gain entry to the Middle Kingdom for a 4-town tour that my lovely Chinese-Indonesian advocate, Rosa Chen, had arranged for me.

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    FedEx with everything they've got

    FedEx with everything they’ve got

    Though FedEx was lazy, the passport DID eventually get to the Homeland, and the Chinese Consulate DID quickly yield up a business visa, and said visa DID make landfall in the Independent Republic of Indonesia and—in effect—that’s the end of my tale.

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    “No wonder people dismiss this story,” you say.

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    Oh, but my drama just gets its Nikes into the starting blocks there.

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    The gentle folk at Indonesian Customs in Jakarta took possession of my “Express” mailing three weeks ago.  And they won’t release it to me.

     

    November

    November is owl month

    Surely, they’re good people who love their children, but they’ve had that envelope three weeks now and have earned a Christmas gift of whoop-ass. (Bummer that Indonesia’s Muslims aren’t as excited by Jesus’ birthday as I am!)

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    No passport means I can’t renew my Indo visa, now 2 weeks expired.

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    After holding daily screaming Skype sessions with FedEx, I’m done.

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    In fact, I was done 6 days ago.

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    Cavorting Customs officials

    Cavorting Customs officials

    Those customs guys gotta watch out, because in the pool last week at my lovely Bali-Dutch Dacha where everybody is beautiful and I love everyone and where—daily—I meditate on peace and harmony, me and my buddy Beni gave the Indo customs folk the old fleas-of-a-hundred-hairy-camels-infesting-your-armpits curse.

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    They have no idea.

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    Curses sent, I went sternly to the local police station on a fine Friday morning to wrestle an official “Lost or Stolen Passport” report from Ubud officialdom (a document demanded by the American Consulate for a replacement).  Anticipating the worst, I put my grim unhappy-white-man face on and, after wading through a few roadblocks where I showed—quite squarely and Jean Claude Van Damme-like—that I was not to be trifled with, a one-finger-typing cop smilingly poked out my “stolen passport” form, printed it on his trusty, dusty inkjet, and pumped a blue-ink rubber stamp on it before warmly passing it to my cool, casual, yet greedy hands.

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    I exhaled.  I was ready for the US officials in Denpasar.
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    Not Putu -- But he almost looks like this

    Not Putu — But he almost looks like this

    Putu is my go-to driver. He had a phrase-long cameo my last visa-focused blog.

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    He’s an interesting cat. Good English, kind demeanor, and dresses like a Chinese hit-man. He’s taught me so much about Balinese culture, language, and governmental behavior on our endless drives that I am fecklessly grateful to him and often overpay him as overtly or as slyly as I can. In the early afternoon, he drove me 25 klicks south to America’s Denpasar Consulate.

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    As we drove, he boyishly supplied me with the devilish details of how Balinese mobs kill local Javanese thieves when they’re caught.

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    Everywhere I looked, rough justice was at play around me.

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    My eyebrows shot up.  

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    Death Councils” indeed.

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    The quaint gate outside the US Consulate, Denpasar

    The well-secured gate outside the American Consulate, Denpasar

    But we had cheerier work ahead of us.  At the quaint and cramped consulate, I accepted the di rigueur body searches and bomb-house lock-up of my over-the-shoulder bag to submit my passport application to the helpful consular general there Who Dispensed his Duties in a Lively Hawaiian Shirt.

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    As I departed, the frontgate Balinese guard with a gigantic policeman’s hat was really smiling at me like the sun itself—for whatever reason.  He seemed sincere, so I met him second-for-joyful-second of beaming full-gaze broken-English conversation while Putu brought ‘round the car and—doing his best to be kind—dropped me off at the local high-end mall where he thought the food court there might have something good for an American to eat.

    He had a big hat

    He had a big hat

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    After some deliciously-overpriced Chinese food, I was ready for another government institution.

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    The speed of our little van downticked as we came up on the crowds milling around Denpasar’s Indo Immigration compound. I hopped out and went in. Thus began my campaign for a reprieve from the $22-dollar-a-day penalty I knew would hit me upon my airport exit as I overstayed my tourist visa, day after durn FedEx-shouting day.

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    I quickly found myself shuttled from one sound-stopping, bullet-proof window to another. Eventually, several sturdily-built, handsomely-dressed immigration folk steered me to a back-building where a bank of chairs sat generously in front of a wide-screen TV. I dodged around the hallway corner for a video-free seat, and was able to watch the good-looking men and terribly poised women in their epic blue tunics and black pants stroll to and fro talking and shouting and cajoling and regrouping and entertaining me endlessly as I just observed the way they rested their heavy limbs into their gleamy black dress-shoes, living apparently unselfconsciously and acting together like one big complicated family.

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    I must have sat there an hour.

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    It was only when I put my book away on the pre-classical meditation traditions that a fellow scholar had stolen from the University of California, Berkeley, unholstered my laptop, and figured I’d better get some real work done that I was inexplicably called to a desk to be dealt with.

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    Our parley ended in a minute.

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    Men at desks

    Men at desks

    Basically, I was told that if I didn’t have a passport, they didn’t want me there, and they couldn’t do a durn thing for me.

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    They tried to be mean about it, but I was feeling too sincere to be perturbed. I had already surrendered all my drachmas to Caesar, as it were.

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    I nodded. I grinned, and dropped all hope of renewing my Indo visa till the race to get a passport was done.

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    Putu was sucking on a cigarette in the parking lot.

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    China

    China

    Ever-forward to the Chinese!

    Now, my unsuspecting reader might wonder why—by great Caesar’s ghost!—I would wander toward the massive, two-story, gold-stuccoed Chinese consulate that made its American counterpart look even more like a mold-riven outbuilding that had suffered swamp-rot since the Louisiana Purchase despite representing The Democratic Ideal All Humanity Has Pinned Its Hopes On.

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    Or, maybe not.

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    Chinese wealth

    China’s Wealth Pie

    What I was thinking was, “Gee. It’s their business visa. The world’s greatest bullet-train nation will know instinctively that my work there will make each and every one of them rich. And they know how to talk to their fellow quasi-lawful societies like the Independent Republic of Indonesia as well as they know artificial island-making in the South China Sea. Maybe they can speak a non-Gringo language that’ll pry my passport from the death-grip of Indo Customs.”

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    We tooled up and—directed by watchful guards—parked our innocent Toyota a safe distance from their front gate. Surprisingly, within minutes of our approach, a white-Polo-shirted official appeared to hear our case. His English was excellent and his cosmopolitanism and youth reminded me of all those fresh-faced, whipsmart Chinese students chattering in Mandarin and Cantonese that filled the sidewalks and cafés close to my old home near Cal Berkeley.

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    Yes, that's the campanile behind them

    Yes, that’s the Campanile behind them

    For all I knew, this kid was my neighbor.

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    Terribly courteous, thoughtful and articulate, he was, nevertheless, equivocal. I couldn’t make the argument stick that he should intervene with Indo customs to Let My Package Go. His obligation was to Chinese citizens only, he said with regret.

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    The last chapter in our journey ended.

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    We went home by new routes.

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    Weird roadblocks appeared—an unexpected festival there, uniformed girls standing 5-wide in the middle of the road there, etc.  Getting home, I peeled off 600,000 rupiah for my gangster driver. I gave him a happy hug, and I girded myself to wait till eternity for America or Indonesia to help me be As Legal as I Wanna Be.  Meanwhile, I’ll relay my story to the next dinner date willing to lend me their ear.

     

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